Now that the new government has been sworn in, the province’s largest-ever opposition is calling for full protections of the Eastern Slopes from coal mining.
This comes on the heel of the news about the commencement of operations at Summit Coal’s Mine 14 in Grande Cache.
“It is super concerning, obviously,” said Sarah Elmeligi, NDP MLA for Banff-Kananaskis.
A year ago, the provincial government announced a moratorium on coal development and exploration in response to a large public outcry. There were, however, a few exceptions that were granted to mine projects that were in advanced stages of the approval process.
This included Mine 14, which is owned by an Australian company called Valory Resources.
“The devil is in the details,” Elmeligi said. “I think that’s what we’re seeing with the development of this Grande Cache mine. This was an exception, and it wasn’t communicated to the people in the area that it was.”
She said that information sharing is only a part of her concerns. The government’s follow-through on its policies is another.
“The residents were surprised, which clearly shows that the government has done a poor job of communicating to local residents that this was going to be happening,” she said.
“Even though they reinstated the coal policy, it’s clear that that reinstatement doesn’t prevent this particular new mine from being developed. There’s been a lack of initiative perhaps on behalf of the government to communicate this reality to residents in the Grande Cache area, but not just residents in Grande Cache, in Alberta as a whole.”
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) also recently posted a blog about Mine 14. It explains that the mine has been working through the approvals process for more than 15 years with parts of the project continuing to “quietly receive” approvals to this day.
That relative quiet stands in stark contrast to the loud public outcry over coal mining and its negative environmental impacts.
“I don’t think outcry is too big of a word. It was one of the biggest public engagements we’ve ever seen,” said Tara Russell, program director with CPAWS.
The Alberta government’s 2021 survey on the issue was met with 25,000 responses with the overwhelming sentiment expressed that Albertans do not want to see coal mining development on the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
“That was pretty clear at the end of that engagement,” Russell said.
“Now, we’ve just seen that whole thing in limbo. We have that interim moratorium on new coal mine development and exploration, which is a good step, but it is just that: it’s interim. It does not provide permanent protection or assurances to the tens of thousands of Albertans who spoke up against the impacts that mines can have to water, to species, and to communities.”
Mine 14 is located near the headwaters of the Smoky River, four kilometres northwest of Grande Cache. Once operational, it expects to produce 3,562 tonnes of coal per day with 53.5 hectares of surface disturbance and 512 hectares of subsurface area, according to the CPAWS blog.
It’s also located within Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goat Habitat.
It further elaborates that the mine has its license and permit, but there were questions on the status of other necessary approvals, including the water license and municipal development permit.
Elmeligi explained that environmental concerns were at the forefront of why the NDP developed the Eastern Slopes Protection Act that it brought to legislature as a private member’s bill last year.
Alberta’s Minister of Energy and Minerals Brian Jean did not respond to the Fitzhugh’s request for an interview.
Summit Coal has advertised that it will hold an open house for the Mine 14 Project on Thursday, July 6 from 2 to 8 p.m. at the Eagle’s Nest Hall in Grande Cache. A posting for the event indicates that it encourages all interested communities and stakeholders to attend as it is an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback.
By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jun 22, 2023